As part of the crew working on what was supposed to be the Maple Street Press Annual for 2012, I composed a couple of articles. An overview of the minor league system was my biggest assignment; I wrote a piece on the large number of double plays hit into by the 2011 edition of the Cardinals as well.
My conclusions: the minor league system is good. Really good. Double plays are bad. Really bad. But not bad in the way you think they are, and almost completely inexplicable. Want more details? Go and get yourself a copy of the VEB Annual eBook. Order it here. Order it on Amazon. Order it from iTunes. Just order it from somewhere so we can all get paid. (It's the biggest downside of the company you're working for going under; when they collapse there's no one left to write you a check.) Plus, it really is good, guys. And gals. (All four of you.)
Anyhow, whoring aside, each year in the past I've written a sleeper column as a companion piece to my system overview. Guys you don't know yet, but I think you will in the future. My track record is pretty decent, if mixed. I tabbed Alex Castellanos all the way back the first year I did it; his bat advanced to the point he was moved for Rafael Furcal at the deadline last year. Good call, Aaron. (I did praise his defense, though, which at the time was still of the middle infield variety, so not all good. Then again, the Dodgers are trying him out at second base, so maybe they see something the Cardinals didn't.) I also picked Blake Murphy, the athletic catching prospect from a small school in Carolina. He did not do so well. Last year I tabbed Trevor Rosenthal; I'm wicked pleased with that call.
This year I wrote a sleeper piece as usual, but forgot to send it along with the overview. In the chaos of Maple Street going under and Larry trying to get this thing put together himself, we never did get the sleeper section put in. So, in order to tease the book and convince you to buy it if you haven't already -- and also because I'm writing this up ahead of time and probably won't be around on Wednesday -- I'm putting my 2012 Sleeper Picks here. You've probably heard these names before, at least in passing, but these aren't top prospects by any means.
I wrote this list back in November; looking at it now I'm not sure how good a list it really is. I can't necessarily argue with myself on any of the names or the logic behind them, but thinking on it now I might choose different players. Or perhaps not.
Before jumping into the list proper, I do want to put a name out there who seems to be getting absolutely no respect, but I would never have thought to include here as a sleeper: Anthony Garcia. Garcia is receiving zero press, despite putting up some remarkable numbers last season. Why that is I don't exactly know, and I'm frankly kind of shocked to see the complete disregard for him. Still, I would never have considered him a sleeper after putting him on my offseason top fifteen prospect list way back in August (when our season was over), and have only realised as this offseason has gone on that I'm apparently the only person in America who believes in Anthony Garcia.
So Garcia is actually my favourite sleeper prospect for this season. I think we see his name a whole lot more often next offseason, after he puts up big numbers in a full-season league at a still very young age. Now that that's out of the way, here we go with the list.
Oh, you can mentally add Keith Butler to this list, too. I think I have a tendency to dig a bit too deeply for sleepers, because Butler doesn't feel like a sleeper to me, but he absolutely is. Anyhow, enough of that.
Tyler Lyons, LHP – Tough to throw a no-hitter and still fit into the sleeper category, but that's firmly where Lyons finds himself after tossing the first no-no in Palm Beach history. A ninth-round selection in 2010, Lyons works a sinking fastball in the 87-89 mph range from a high arm slot, giving him downward plane and solid groundball tendencies. His best pitch is a plus curve he can spin for strikes or work out of the zone with, and his changeup gives him a third average or better offering. The numbers for Lyon weren't outstanding in his first pro season, but he was invited to pitch in the Arizona Fall League, and a good performance there could give him momentum heading into 2012. Long-term he projects as a mid- to back-end starter with little platoon split to suggest future LOOGYdom.
Ryan Copeland, LHP – Cut from pure finesse lefty cloth, Copeland has put up gaudy numbers in the low minors since being drafted in 2010. His repertoire and low arm slot are both reminiscent of John Tudor, as Copeland baffles hitters with a mid- to high-80s fastball and an assortment of offspeed pitches. His changeup is his best pitch and has allowed him to dominate right-handed hitters.
Copeland seemed to tire down the stretch in his first full pro season, getting knocked around in August and hurting his overall numbers. Still, he struck out a batter per inning and posted a K:BB ratio of almost 6:1. He isn't big, the stuff isn't great, and he's been old for the levels he's pitched at so far, so there's a fair chance the performance could be a mirage. Still, Copeland's best attribute is his ability to throw strikes while keeping the ball out of the middle of the plate, and that's a skill which can take a pitcher a long way.
Kevin Jacob, RHP – A 2011 draftee out of Georgia Tech, Jacob's career thus far has been one of boom and bust. Boom due to monstrous arm strength that allows him to push his fastball into the upper 90s, bust thanks to shoulder issues which have derailed his progress at various times and depressed his draft stock as a college senior.
When healthy, Jacob has an overpowering fastball and slider combo; his performance in the Alaskan League in 2009 – 45 strikeouts in 27 innings – shows how dominant he can be at his best. However, there are concerns about his exaggerated, straight over the top delivery, which lacks deception and some believe may have contributed to his arm troubles. If he can stay on the field and put his past injury issues behind him, Jacob could very well jump on the fast track of power-armed relief.
Tyler Rahmatulla, 2B -- Following a brilliant start to his college career at UCLA, Rahmatulla was bitten by the injury bug. Hard. He missed a significant chunk of time after sustaining an injury in a celebratory dogpile, and saw his stock fall even further when academic issues kept off the field even longer.
The injury issues and off-the-field struggles served to cloud but not obscure the picture of a player with talent far beyond his 34th-round draft position. Rahmatulla has the tools of a top-five rounder in the field, with quick feet and a strong, accurate arm that plays anywhere on the diamond, but it's when standing in the batter's box that he really shines. A quick, level swing allows him to pepper line drives to all parts of the field from foul pole to foul pole, and he has the strength and batspeed to hit for solid-average power. If things hadn't gone off the rails for Rahmatulla in college he likely would have been drafted some 25-30 rounds higher than he ultimately was, and that talent needs only an opportunity to come through.
Christopher Edmondson, OF – A late round pick out of tiny Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York, Edmondson took a huge step forward in 2011. Playing in the hitters' graveyards of the Florida State League, Edmondson nonetheless managed an .803 OPS in his first full professional season. The most pleasant surprise, though, was his plate discipline. He improved his walk rate markedly from his 2010 debut, drawing a free pass in 10.3% of his plate appearances in 2011. He doesn't strike out to excess, either, particularly for a power hitter.
Edmondson's calling card from the time he was drafted has been plus power from the left side of the plate. He hit 44 home runs in his college career, and put 10 more over the wall in 2011 despite the tough environment. His speed grades out a little better than average as well, giving him a very intriguing combination of tools. A left fielder by trade, Edmondson's value is tied tightly to his bat. Still, there will always be room for a player capable of driving himself in.
Lance Jeffries, OF – A local kid, selected in the 10th round out of a St. Louis area high school, Jeffries stands out for his explosive athleticism and love for the game. A baseball rat and huge Cardinal fan, Jeffries displays the kind of quick-twitch musculature only nature can grant in all phases of the game. His speed rates at least plus and possibly even a little better, he was clocked as high as 91 mph on the showcase circuit, and he's shown raw power potential, with a swing best described as loose, quick, and explosive.
The pitfalls for Jeffries are those of any player fresh out of high school. He's raw in most phases of the game, and coming from a non-baseball hotbed puts him a bit further behind on the curve. Still, what Jeffries possesses can't be taught, and he has the passion and work ethic to turn those tools into production.
Bonus names to watch: Leobaldo Pina SS, Kyle Hald LHP, Adam Ehrlich C, Michael Knox 1B
If you want more Cardinal-related work of even higher quality, buy the VEB Annual. Right. The. Eff. Now. It's so cheap, and so awesome! It will make you smarter and teach your kids to read without any effort on your part! It cures rheumatism and psoriasis and lupus! It's a natural aphrodesiac to women and can add three inches to the male penis just by reading it! And we donate all the proceeds to a home for disabled Care Bears! Think of all the good your money could do for down on their luck Care Bears, many of whom were wounded in the war, fighting against the Cabbage Patch Kid menace! Won't you please help?
"Flex Your Gold" - Cities Aviv
"Araw" - Cities Aviv w/ Royal'T (Is this the only rap song ever with a shoutout to Ian Curtis in the intro? Survey says Probably.)
"Ativan" - Atlas Sound
"Sheila" - Atlas Sound
"Pearly" - Radiohead (Fantastic show this past Friday at Scottrade.)
"Black Star" - Radiohead
"Holland 1945" - Neutral Milk Hotel
"King of Carrot Flowers Pt. 1" - Neutral Milk Hotel
"Never Look Back" - Slow Club
"Two Cousins" - Slow Club (I'm obsessed with this song.)